A Theology of Sanctuary
A Theology of Kinship with Creation
A Theology of Alienation and Homecoming
A Theology of Empathy for Earth
A Theology of Deep Incarnation and Reconciliation
A Theology of Sacrament
A Theology of Ministry to Earth
We often do theology in a vacuum, detached from the context of daily life, personal experience or common worship. The theological outline in this work arises from two specific living contexts: the environmental crisis facing our planet and our regular worship life in community. More specifically, this outline also provides a theological basis for a new season of the church year, namely, The Season of Creation.
In recent years, numerous volumes have appeared that focus on ecotheology, environmental ethics, Earth ministry and ecological readings of the Scriptures such as The Earth Bible. Relatively few works, however, have focussed on the relationship between theology, ecology and worship. This book seeks to redress that balance.
In Theology for Earth Community, edited by Dieter Hessel, a range of authors relate various domains of study to theology and the environment. The final article touching on the link between ecology and worship makes the point that:
Despite the tremendous surge of energy toward environmental concerns since the mid-1980’s, there is astonishingly little being done to bring together the ecological and the liturgical. (Ingram, 1996, 250)
Since this comment by Beryl Ingram a few resources have appeared which offer liturgies for particular days such as Earth Day or World Environment Day. Seven Songs of Creation published Pilgrim Press offers a range of liturgical materials that may be used on such occasions. However, a theological basis for worship practices that are linked to the environmental crisis and integrate liturgy with creation in a substantive way is rarely considered.
Quite independently, two significant movements have emerged that encourage us to tackle this subject as a domain of study with great potential. The first of these is Times of Creation promoted by ECEN, The European Christian Environmental Network. Following an Orthodox tradition which holds September 1 as the first Day of Creation, the ECEN promotes the six Sundays which follow as creation related Sundays. See www.ecen.org.
Concurrently in Australia, an ecumenical group coordinated by Norman Habel, introduced The Season of Creation as part of the church year, incorporating a 3 year cycle of readings and Sundays with names associated directly with creation. This season now extends from September 1 to the second Sunday in October.
The Season of Creation is not simply a harvest thanksgiving festival writ large or a six week affirmation of the wonders of creation, though these themes may well play a role. Nor is The Season of Creation primarily designed to redress the relative lack of emphasis contemporary Christians have placed on the First Article of the Creed in their worship, though surely this deficiency needs to be overcome.
The Season of Creation challenges us to re-orient our relationship with creation. While the challenge may have been provoked by the current ecological crisis and a growing awareness of our place in the web of creation, the origins of our re-orientation lie deep in our Christian tradition, especially our biblical heritage. We are challenged to return to our biblical roots to rediscover our intimate connections with creation. We return to see ourselves again as part of the very Earth from which we are made.
This volume, then, is essentially a biblical theology for creation oriented worship. The aim is not to examine in detail many areas of our Christian tradition, such as the writings of St Francis of Assisi, that might also contribute to such a theology of worship. Instead, the focus is on a wealth of biblical sources that have been virtually ignored in the development of liturgy and worship in a creation context.
Our goal is develop a basic biblical theology to ground our worship at a time when our planet home is experiencing a serious environmental crisis. This theology seeks to reorient out thinking toward creation as an integral part of our worship life. The Season of Creation provides a specific liturgical context within which to develop this theology.
More specifically, this study seeks to explore the underlying biblical theology in a creation context relevant to the major components of the traditional liturgy. We are not developing a broad general theology of creation and worship, but linking specific theologies to particular rites and facets of our worship. These connections are illustrated by the following outline:
Location and Invocation – A Theology of Sanctuary
Invitation/Call to Worship – A Theology of Kinship with Creation
Confession and Absolution – A Theology of Alienation and Homecoming
Readings and Prayers – A Theology of Empathy with Earth
Gospel and Creed – A Theology of Deep Incarnation and Reconciliation
The Eucharist – A Theology of Presence
Commission and Blessing – A Theology of Ministry of Earth
As this outline suggests, while the context is creation, the liturgy remains Christological. With creation we celebrate Christ at the core of creation. This kind of worship theology is a far cry from the new age or quasi-pantheistic approach that many thought may develop. The incarnate Christ and the cosmic Christ are integral to the theology of worship in this volume.
As the Christian community grows in ecological awareness, the relationship between faith and Earth consciousness needs to be nurtured in appropriate ways. Christian worship provides a crucial context for this nurture. It is not sufficient to preach about creation or name our crimes against creation. The time has come to celebrate with creation and reflect our empathy with a groaning creation.
The theology presented in this outline is intended to be ecumenical and serve a wide range of Christian denominations. Theologians are cited from a range of traditions. While a Lutheran orientation may be apparent in a few places, our concern is to incorporate the insights gained from an ecological reading of the Bible into a theology that grounds a fresh formulation of our liturgy for The Season of Creation.
2004 Seven Songs of Creation. Liturgies for celebrating and Healing Earth.
Cleveland: Pilgrim Press.
Habel, Norman, ed.
2000-2 The Earth Bible – 5 Volumes. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press.
Hessel, Dieter, ed.
1996 Theology for Earth Community. A Field Guide. Maryknoll: Orbis.
1996 ‘Eco-justice Liturgies’ in Theology for Earth Community. A Field
Guide edited by Dieter Hessel. Maryknoll: Orbis, 250-264.